Following the recent death of a 3-year-old boy in Carteret after he was attacked by two pit bulls, a plan is moving forward to crack down on the owners of large dogs in New Jersey that allow their pets to roam freely outside.

The Responsible Dog Ownership Act, A2401, requires local health departments to establish fencing rules for homes where large dogs live, and enact strong fines to punish those who don’t follow the rules.

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The measure also stipulates anyone who knowingly, purposely or recklessly allows a dog to roam without a leash or other restraint in a residential neighborhood, park or open space where a child may be present could face a criminal charge of endangerment.

During an Assembly Agriculture Committee meeting, representatives of several animal groups including the ASPCA and New Jersey Aid for Animals opposed the bill, claiming it would result in unfair and unreasonable problems for pet owners. But the sponsor of the measure, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Passaic, said the idea is to ensure dog owners are responsible.

“There’s not going to be an all-out assault on dog owners and fencing. There won’t be an excessive amount of staff going out fines,” he said. “It’s more or less going to after the bad actors.”

He noted across the country about 600 people have been killed or mauled by dogs over the past 15 years. Most of those dogs have been large breeds. The legislation does not specify what constitutes a large dog.

“A Chihuahua, as we know, can be the deadliest barker and biter there is but the most you’re going to get is a bite. You’re not going to die, I think," he said.

Wimberly said people who want to leave their large dogs outside should be required to have a fence that will keep the animal from escaping.

“If you’ve ever seen a big dog dig a hole in a yard under a fence, you know you have to stabilize your fence more than the height of it, you know you may have to put a brick foundation or boards there to keep them from coming out," he said.

Wimberly said the fencing requirement would not apply to people with dogs in townhouses or apartments.

The measure was passed by the committee and will now be considered by the full Assembly.

“If you are an irresponsible dog owner that has probably previously had issues with your local health department and your animal control, then you should be on alert.”

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